Thursday, July 31, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 31 July 2014

'So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire.' 
Matthew 13.49,50

Reflection
Again our Lord warns of the judgement to come and how terrible it will be 
on that day for those who reject God. His warning is one we must take seriously and share with others.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 30 July 2014

‘On finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.' 
Matthew 13.46

Reflection:
All else is as nothing compared to what God offers us. Therefore no sacrifice we may make for the sake of entering into his kingdom can be too great.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

'to see a fellow-native die': the martyrdom of St David Lewis SJ

Reading an article about the adventures of Jesuit priest Fr John Gerard in Elizabethan England and his remarkable escape from the Tower of London in Crisis magazine (here) put me in mind of a post I did a couple of years back about a brother Jesuit of his who did not have the good fortune to escape, but instead went to the gallows for his faith: St David Lewis, the last martyr of the Reformation in England and Wales. I'm re-posting the piece below (which is the sermon I preached on him shortly after visiting his grave in Usk, Wales); his last words from the gallows can be found here  (the title of this post is taken from that speech) and another short piece I posted on him here


Mr Baker: his interesting life & extraordinary death

David Lewis
David Lewis (1616 – 27 August 1679) 

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is perhaps an occupational hazard for clergy that we enjoy going into churches and graveyards … and so, of course, I had a fine time on my recent holiday in Wales popping into several churches in the towns and villages that we passed through … and in case you starting to feel sorry for my family, thinking it was surely not much of a holiday for them, don't worry – we did other things as well as visit churches!

One of those we visited was the Priory of St Mary in the town of Usk, near the English border (not too far from Chepstow, famous for its race track). We had spent the day visiting an attraction about an hour from where we were staying; Usk was on the way back and we stopped to stretch our legs and have a little wander around. As it was evening the church was closed, but we had a look at it from the outside and at a few of the headstones.
 

One in particular caught my eye. It was a large marble stone, laid flat on the ground, near the church door. It looked fairly new, with some flowers on it. What caught my eye first was the name: Saint David Lewis. My first thought that it was a rather odd name … but as I read further, I realised that it was the grave of a reformation martyr, a Catholic priest who had been executed as a result of the religious intolerance of his time.

But how very strange, I thought, that his grave was in the local Anglican graveyard … and so close to the door of the church. There was more to this story than met the eye, I decided, and I determined to try and find out a bit more about this man when I got back home to the rectory.

The internet is a wonderful thing, and it didn't take me long to find out quite a lot about his story. He was a local man, born not far from Usk into what we would call a 'mixed marriage' with a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. He was raised a Protestant, but in his late teens was drawn to the tradition of his mother. Later he travelled to the continent where he trained as a priest and was ordained. He held some posts in Rome, but Wales seems to have always held his heart and he returned home to spend the next 30 years, the remainder of his life, quietly ministering to the spiritual needs of the Catholic community of the area in which he had grown up.

He lived under the name of Mr Baker and his public persona was that of a gentleman. But as he was a local, I find it hard to believe that this was not merely a polite fiction and that the non-Catholics of his community did not simply wink at his pretence. It was, of course, a capital offence for a Catholic priest to administer the sacraments at this time. But it was something that Fr Lewis thought important enough to risk his life to do… and despite the law, something that the non-Catholic part of his parish were content for him to do.

Alas, events far away were to have a tragic impact on the quiet and peaceful little town in Wales. In London what came to be called the Titus Oates conspiracy stirred up anti-Catholic feeling in the Capital. This might have made little difference, were it not for the fact that a reward was issued for anyone involved in the plot. Greed got the better of a couple of local servants … fifty pounds was a lot of money in those days … and Mr Baker was unmasked to the authorities as Fr Lewis. He was taken to London and questioned in relation to the conspiracy and found blameless … but there was no denying that he was a Catholic priest and for that he was sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered.
 
He as returned to Usk for the gruesome sentence to be carried out. It was a public execution, as was the custom of the day, and he was allowed to speak from the gallows, as also was customary. He affirmed that he committed no crime – and that he had been found innocent of any criminal conspiracy – and that he was to die only because he was a priest who had done his duty and administered the sacraments of the Church to his people. If this was something that he had to die for, then he died willingly, because he could not have done otherwise.

And so Fr Lewis was executed. But there is much about his death that speaks well not only of him, but also of the people of Usk. The local executioner could not be found to carry out the deed. He had run off rather than be the one who would kill the holy man. History records that a 'passing miscreant' was employed for the grim task. A local Protestant held Fr Lewis' hand as he was hanged and would not let go until he was sure the priest was quite dead, thereby sparing this 'local boy' the agonising horror of being drawn and quartered. And after it was all over, his body was taken for decent burial in the local churchyard, where it rests in a place of honour near the church door to this day.
 
St David was to be the last martyr of the reformation in England and Wales. His story is inspiring in many ways. The first is that the actions of his local, Protestant community show a quiet religious tolerance, remarkable for its day, accepting of Fr Lewis during his life, and doing their best for him at the time of his death. The second is that of Fr Lewis himself, risking his life to bring the sacraments to the Catholic people of the land he grew up in, and finally giving his life for having done so. And doing so cheerfully, a price he was willing to pay, because it was something that he saw as being that important.

I can't help thinking of the importance St David attached to the sacraments after our Gospel reading today: think about what Jesus says here: 'Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ 

These are Christ's own words - 'unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life'No wonder, perhaps, that Fr Lewis thought it right to risk his life to bring this life saving flesh and blood to his flock … no wonder that, believing Christ's words to be true, as he stood on the gallows, moments before the terrible death to which he had been condemned, he could calmly say that he could not have done otherwise and would do so again if he could. It was his task, his duty, his God-given vocation to bring the flesh and blood that brings eternal life to those he had care over and he could not and would not shirk that duty whatever the cost.

How many of us regard the sacraments with equal importance? How many of us would risk death to receive them or to bring them to others? St David died a martyr's death as witness to his faith in their importance, their necessity, in living a Christians life. And while I do not wish a martyr's death for anyone here, I do pray that we would all be inspired by his example to the extent that we would have even a fraction of the devotion to the sacraments Christ gave his Church … so that with God's grace we too may enter into the eternal life Christ promised all who followed him ... in the Name of the + Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

prayer diary Tuesday 29 July 2014

'Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.' 
Matthew 13. 40

Reflection
Judgement is not something that anyone likes to think about; but Christ warns us of it. If we take seriously his promises of eternal life we must also accept his warnings.

Monday, July 28, 2014

NIGERIA: EIGHT DIE IN THREE BOMB ATTACKS IN KANO IN 24-HOUR PERIOD

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

At least eight people have died in three bomb attacks that rocked the capital of Kano State in northern Nigeria within a 24-hour period.

According to the Nigerian Police Force, a suicide bomber 'suspected to be a female' detonated a device at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Mega Filling Station in the Hotoro area of Kano City today, killing three people and injuring eight.

On Sunday 27 July, at least five people died and sixteen were injured when an improvised explosive device was hurled at Saint Charles Catholic church in the Sabon Gari suburb as the congregation was leaving the service. Local reports indicate the victims were a soldier who was guarding the church; a man, two women and a child. Three suspects arrested at the scene of the blast remain in custody. This was the second bombing in three days targeting the predominantly Christian and Igbo suburb. Five people died and many more were injured when a bomb exploded in the New Park Motor Park on 24 July.

Also on 27 July, a young female suicide bomber dressed in a black hijab detonated explosives after being challenged as she approached a police check point near the North-West University, injuring five officers.

Festivals marking the end of Ramadan were cancelled following Sunday's bombings.

On the same day, Boko Haram operatives are reported to have overrun Garkida Town in Gombi Local Government Area (LGA) of Adamawa State.

Elsewhere, the government of Cameroon has increased security in the north of the country after Boko Haram launched a sustained attack on Kolofata Town on 27 July and abducted several people, including the wife of the country's deputy prime minister, her maid, a local traditional ruler, and five members of his family. Deputy Prime Minister Amadou Ali and his wife had travelled to Kolofata to celebrate the end of Ramadan. While Cameroonian soldiers managed to rescue the deputy Prime Minister, they were unable to rescue his wife. According to local reports, two of Deputy Prime Minister Ali's brothers may have died during the attack, along with at least 14 others.

The assault on Kolofata Town was the third by Boko Haram in northern Cameroon in three days and is the latest involving kidnapping. In May, suspected Boko Haram members abducted ten Chinese workers, who remain missing.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said, 'We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed in the recent bombings in Kano. As the raid on Kolofata Town illustrates, Boko Haram poses a transnational security threat, and we urge continued collaboration between Nigeria and its neighbours to reinforce security on their borders and to jointly formulate an effective strategy to uncover the group's hideouts and release its hostages. We continue to call for a surge in troop numbers, in order to protect rural towns and villages which remain targets of Boko Haram's violent and nihilistic campaign.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

prayer diary Monday 28 July 2014

‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed …. the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it ... becomes a tree.' 
Matthew 13.31,32

Reflection
God's kingdom is an unstoppable force. Allow it to touch your heart and it will transform your life.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

hope and warnings in some short parables

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Over the past number of weeks our Gospel readings have been covering a short section from the 13th chapter of St Matthew comprised mostly of parables. Last Sunday and the Sunday before they were long parables: the parable of the Sower; and the parable of the wheat and the tares. Today we have a number of very short parables, some so brief that they are only one verse long. Each on its own has an important lesson for us; taken together, in the order the evangelist presents them to us, they act to reinforce each other and provide an even greater depth of meaning.

He begins with the parable of the mustard seed, one that is familiar to us all; with the context of hindsight it reminds us of how from seemingly tiny beginnings Christ's Church spread out over the whole world. The kingdom of God is a mighty and unstoppable force. Much the same message is contained in the first one verse parable that follows, of the yeast and the flour. Just as a little yeast causes a great amount of flour to rise, so Christ's good news will spread out and change all the world. 

The next two parables, about the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price, also only one verse long, explain why this is so: to be a part of God's kingdom is something beyond price or compare; it is worth any effort to attain, because whatever it costs us to enter in is as nothing compared to what we gain. We hear much the same message in our Old Testament reading from Genesis where Jacob works for seven years so that Rachel might be his bride 'and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.' When you consider that this was hard physical labour, tending flocks and herds during the cruel heat by day and harsh cold by night of that desert place, it was love indeed that seven years would seem like nothing as long as at the end of them he might win so great a prize. And it is exactly thus that all our labours for the kingdom should seem to us.

And lest we lose the run of ourselves, filled with warm, fuzzy notions about the kingdom being something inevitable and fantastic prize that all you have to do is wish for it, the final parable, the longest of the five, contains a grounding and sobering warning: not all will enter into the kingdom. On that great and terrible day when God's angels come, they will separate the evil from the righteous. Only the latter will enter into God's kingdom. The rest will be thrown 'into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

But that should not be cause for alarm. As the psalmist tells us: 'Blessed are all those who fear the Lord, and walk in his ways … it shall go well with you, and happy shall you be.' Those who faithfully follow Christ's teachings have nothing to fear. And there is more reason for us to hope, weak though we may be and prone to fail and fall prey to the temptations that the world, the flesh, and the devil daily present us with; for as St Paul tells us in our reading from his letter to the Romans 'It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.' The Son of God himself not only prays for us, but intercedes for us to the Father. Can mercy be withhold from those who truly repent and long for forgiveness if the Son himself is the one who asks for it? I think not, for as St Paul goes on to tell us 'I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ and the hope that gives us of God's mercy at the last. But that does not mean that it will all be easy. The parable of the pearl of great price, the parable of the treasure hidden in a field, and the story of how Jacob has striven for many years so that he might have Rachel as his bride, warn us that hard work and effort is required. We must put our hands to the plough and not look back if we are to be worthy of the kingdom of heaven. But the effort will not be too much for us. As St Paul tells us 'If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?' God will supply the grace to all who will accept it to overcome all difficulties, even those caused by our own weak wills, so that at the last we may find ourselves in the place he created us to be – with him in heaven. Something that I pray for all here.


To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed and who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen